Saturday, June 17, 2017

We Are Ambassadors for Christ

So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ as if God were appealing through us. 2 COR 5:17-20A

But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Matthew 5:34-35

Incline my heart, O God, to your decrees. (Psalm 119:36)

Oath-taking.  Swearing. For those of us who drive competitively (i.e. rush hour aka crawl-and-sprawl hour around Washington, DC), there is the near occasion to sin multiple times daily.  Even for public transit commuters, who has not sworn at Metro when the bus was late, the subway train broke down, or the sardine-can crowds unbearable?

You don’t have to be a commuter to find occasions to swear.  Some years ago, I was testifying in Federal court.  Once I sat in the witness chair, the experience started with “swearing me in.” The purpose of an oath like that was to guarantee truthfulness in a legal proceeding.  And of course, just like on TV, the phrase ended with “…so help me God.” [There was no Bible.] Also, on the first day of both my Federal jobs, I took the civilian oath of office.  On both October 22, 2012, and February 6, 2017, I raised my right hand to proclaim:

I, Anthony DeCristofaro, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God. (5 U.S.C. §3331)

According to a story broadcast on National Public Radio before the 2009 Presidential Inauguration, Mr. Paul Lacey of the American Friends Service Committee said, “The Quakers were among some of those groups that took very literally the injunction in Scripture in the Sermon on the Mount that you should swear not, just period. You swear not.”

The Quakers are not out on a limb.  They are following the letter of the moral code set down in Hebrew Law. Swearing by the name of God has been against the moral law since the Ten Commandments were etched in stone: “You shall not invoke the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished anyone who invokes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)  

Why the fuss?  Mr. Lacey further explained: “The meaning behind that for Quakers was not only the sense that if the Sermon on the Mount gives you an ethical principle, you ought to take it very, very seriously, but also that if you swear, you are suggesting that maybe other times you don't tell the truth.”

Jesus reminds us to not use the divine name in making any oaths.  “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’: literally, “let your speech be ‘Yes, yes,’ ‘No, no.’”  Some take this passage to mean that this milder form of oath is permitted by Jesus. However, contrast this statement to Matthew 5:34, “Do not swear at all.” Period.  Drop the mike.

When I was in junior high school, I remember the howls of laughter from my friends as we would listen to George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” monologue.  And I can still see my father’s face when he heard us listening to that!  Ouch!

If we did not have a tendency to lie, then oath-taking would not be necessary.  Imagine the world if we could not lie.  (“Does this dress make me look…?”  No, dear!).   As new creations formed to be “ambassadors for Christ,” our advocacy must be based upon truth-filled witness.  Jesus asks us – or demands of us – a level of truthfulness that would make oaths needless and superfluous.

Swearing may be your best option when trying to open that #$@&%*! pickle jar.  However, when taking an oath to be truthful, avoid the near occasion to sin. And if you can not turn off the profanity in Grand Theft Auto V or Call of Duty video games, then maybe you should not use them at all.  

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